Australia’s federal environment minister rejected an application on Wednesday for a new coal mine in the country’s northeast near the Great Barrier Reef.
Waratah Coal, a company owned by controversial mining magnate Clive Palmer, planned to produce 40 million tonnes a year of thermal coal in the state of Queensland.
This was reportedly the first time federal environmental law has been used to block a coal mine.
Coal mining has been an increasingly contentious issue in recent years with the Carmichael thermal coal mine, funded by the Indian company Adani, opening up in central Queensland despite huge public protests during the former Morrison government’s time in office.
But today’s decision came as no surprise, as the federal Labor government headed by Anthony Albanese, which won office last May, has far stronger policies to counter global warming than the previous office-holders.
The Queensland government also advocated that the proposal be rejected, with a state land court recommending last November that the mine not proceed on grounds that its emissions would contribute to climate change and harm human rights.
“I’ve decided that the adverse environmental impacts are simply too great,” Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said in a video posted to social media.
“The mine is an open-cut coal mine less than 10 kilometres (six miles) from the Great Barrier Reef, and the risk of pollution and irreversible damage to the reef is very real.
“Freshwater creeks run into the Great Barrier Reef and onto seagrass meadows that feed dugongs and provide breeding grounds for fish.”
The mine proposal involved the construction of two open-cut pits to extract up to 10 million tonnes of coal a year. It would have operated for 20 years, exporting coal overseas.
Plibersek said her office received 9,000 public submissions on the issue in 10 business days. Some 98% of submissions were against the proposal, according to an ABC News report, which said local residents were “elated” at the decision.
Aside from emissions and impacts on the Great Barrier Reef, there was also concern about the project affecting freshwater creeks and groundwater.
Waratah Coal did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Environmental experts say the UNESCO World Heritage-listed reef, the world’s biggest coral reef ecosystem, is suffering from the significant impact of climate change and warming of oceans.
- Jim Pollard with Reuters